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Sounds & Words

Week 3 Michaelmas 2010

Mark J. Jones


Last week…

• Airstreams

– pulmonic, glottalic, velaric

• Vowel quadrilateral

– height + fronting + rounding

• Phonemes & allophones

– physics – the actual sounds heard

– function – lexical contrasts & sound patterns

This week…

• Talk in more detail about phonemes & allophones in


– some English allophones are phonemes in other languages

– some English phonemes are allophones in other languages

• Different languages divide up phonetic space in different


Phonemes & allophones

• Phonemes are sounds which are lexically contrastive

– ‘pin’ vs. ‘tin’ vs. ‘kin’ vs. ‘sin’ vs. ‘fin’ vs. thin’

– these words are minimal pairs

• they differ by one sound only

• Minimal pairs main way of identifying contrasts

– commutation test

• Need not be real words:

– ‘tap’ vs. ‘dap’

– ‘dap’ not a real word, but it could be

Phonemes & allophones

• The sounds we hear are called phones

– aspirated alveolar plosive [tʰ] in ‘tin’

– aspirated velar plosive [kʰ] in ‘kin’

• Allophones are contextual variants of the same


– in different contexts

• ‘tell’ with dark final [lˠ]

• ‘let’ with light initial [l]

– complementary distribution

– within the same lexical context, e.g.

• ‘cat’ with final [t] vs. [ʔ]



• phonemes are not real, they are abstract

• what we hear are (allo)phones

– allophones are grouped into phonemic categories

• We ignore phonetic differences and focus on contrast

– stan vs. tan

– red vs. thread

– pill vs. lip

– cull vs. cud

Allophones - Issues

• Do listeners really link phones in different contexts


– some lexical patterns:

• ‘tell’ (dark [lˠ]) linked to ‘telling’ (light [l])

• ‘fourteen’ (aspirated [tʰ]) and ‘sixteen’ (unaspirated [t])

• ‘set off’ ( [tʰ] ) and ‘set down’ ( [ʔ] )

• ‘ticker’ ( [kʰ] ) and ‘ticking’ ( [k̟ʰ] )

– Why wouldn’t they? Humans are good at pattern recognition

• group stars into constellations, see images in clouds, flames,

shingle on a beach

Allophones – issues

• Experimental evidence

– listeners compensate for context

• [s] with lip-rounding sounds more like [ʃ]

• create a synthetic fricative half-way between [s] and [ʃ]

• in a rounded vowel context, listeners claim to hear more [s]

– it isn’t really [s]; it’s neither [s] nor [ʃ]

– they compensate for contextual rounding

– hear the hybrid fricative as [s]

• That said, directly proving the existence of the phoneme

is tricky (cf. the atom)

– it’s an abstract entity

Phoneme – what symbol?

• As the phoneme is abstract the choice of symbol is

technically arbitrary

– English /r/ is not a trill in most accents (i.e. [r])

• square brackets = physical reality

• slash brackets = abstraction

• in recent phonological theory this is not the case

– blurring of boundary between phonetics & phonology

• division of labour

• content of abstract symbolisation

Some RP allophones

• Two major causes for allophones:

– segmental context

– syllabic context

• Segmental context

– cannot move seamlessly from one segment to next

– coarticulation – articulations interact

– effects predictable to some extent

• Syllabic context

– more mysterious

– effects not predictable

Syllable structure

• Nucleus is obligatory

– usually a vowel

– can have syllabic consonants too in some languages

• Onsets are very common

– onset-nucleus most common syllable shape (transition?)

– onsets obligatory in some languages

• Codas much rarer

– many languages do not have codas

• Clusters are also rarer

Syllables structure

Some RP allophones

• Allophones of /l/

• coda /l/ is dark [lˠ] (older [ɫ])

– velarised: back of tongue raised

• onset /l/ is light

– non-velarised

• ‘pal’ vs. ‘lap’

• ‘pill’ vs. ‘lip’

• ‘tell’ vs. ‘let’

Some RP allophones

Some RP allophones

• Allophones of voiceless plosives

– initial plosives are aspirated

• produced with abducted vocal folds

– final plosives are pre-glottalised

• produced with adducted vocal folds

• pre-pause and pre-consonantal

• ‘pill’ [pʰɪlˠ]

• ‘lip’ [lɪʔp͡]

– Use of tie-bar to show that symbols are not a cluster

– we can use the same thing for affricates, i.e. [tʃ͡]

Some RP allophones

• Vowel duration + final obstruent

– obstruent = plosives, fricatives, affricate

• Vowel is longer before voiced obstruent

– not the vowel length contrast, just phonetic

– peace /piːs/ vs. peas /piːz/

– hiss /hɪs/ vs. his /hɪz/

– phonetic transcription uses half-length diacritic [ˑ]

– use is logical (once you think about it!)

Some RP allophones

• Short vowel + voiced > half-long

– hiss /hɪs/ vs. his /hɪz/

– hiss [hɪs] vs. his [hɪˑz]

• Long vowel already long

– becomes half-long + voiceless

– peace /piːs/ vs. peas /piːz/

– peace [pʰiˑs] vs. peas [pʰiːz]

– This works even if the final sound is devoiced, i.e. no vocal fold

vibration, so [hɪˑz̥] (cf. whispered speech)

Some RP allophones

• Nasalisation

– Nasal consonants produced with lowered velum

• allows air (and sound) into nasal cavity

• Lowering the velum (velic lowering) takes time

– vowel + nasal consonant > nasalised vowel

– ‘sad’ [sæˑd̥]

– ‘sang’ [sæ̃ŋ]

Some RP allophones

• Fronting of velars

– velar sounds produced with tongue back (dorsum)

• place of articulation border of hard & soft palate

• adjacent vowels modify tongue shape

– front vowel – velar becomes fronted (pre-palatal)

– back vowel – velar becomes backed (post-velar)

• ‘keep’ [kʰ̟iˑʔp͡]

• ‘curb’ [kʰɜːb̥]

• ‘carp’ [k̠ʰɑˑʔp͡]

Some RP allophones

• Vowel retraction before dark /l/

– ‘bid’ [bɪd]

– ‘bill’ [bɪ̠lˠ]

• Produces a range of allophones

– ‘tell’ vs. ‘ted’ [tʰɛ̠lˠ]

– ‘pal’ vs. ‘pad’ [pʰæ̠lˠ]

• The retracted vowels shift in the vowel space

Retracted vowels

Crosslinguistic differences

• Phonemes in English

• /r/ vs. /l/

• ‘rap’ vs. ‘lap’

• ‘rack’ vs. ‘lack’

– not phonemes in Korean or Japanese

• ‘park’ /ɑ/ vs. ‘pack’ /æ/

– quality difference not phonemic in Arabic

– duration is!

Crosslinguistic differences

• Allophones in English

– [ɕ] in ‘sheep’ and [ʃ] in ‘shark’

– both contextual variants of /ʃ/

• phonemes in Mandarin & Polish, /ɕ/ vs. /ʃ/

– [ t̪] in ‘eighth’ and [t] in ‘eight’

• phonemes in Malayalam, Gunywingu


• Ashby, Michael, & John Maidment (2005) Introducing

Phonetic Science, CUP (chapter 9)

• Giegerich, Heinz J. (2003). English phonology. CUP,

Cambridge (chapter 2)

• Roach, Peter (2000). English phonetics & phonology.

CUP, Cambridge (chapters 5 & 8)

• Cruttenden, Alan. (2001). Gimson’s Pronunciation of

English. Arnold (chapter 9)

Questions? Email Mark: markjjones@cantab.net

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